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Baltimore area distillers jump in to help fill the hand sanitizer void

Arch Watkins, co-founder of Old Line Distillers of Baltimore, makes a small batch of hand sanitizer in the distillery.

In a move that echoes efforts across the nation, from Vermont to California, at least five Baltimore and Maryland liquor distilleries have started making another high demand product —hand sanitizer. The need became evident as the coronavirus pandemic has led to shortages of the product throughout the United States.

“We will continue to be who we are as distillers and creative spirits producers, but there’s an opportunity for us to help the community here and we’re not going to pass it up,” said Max Lents, CEO and co-founder of Baltimore Spirits Company. “We are uniquely positioned to produce hand sanitizer in bulk quantities and get it to the most important hands in the state.”

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Representatives of the area distilleries said they began gathering materials to make hand sanitizer per the World Health Organization and Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines. This production protocol primarily applies to larger-scale institutions like the distilleries, not individual producers.

Baltimore Spirits Company has already started production, while the others either plan to start within the next few days or they are running test batches. Combined, the companies project they will produce a total of around 5,000 gallons of hand sanitizer within the next week.

Those requesting hand sanitizer from the distilleries primarily include city and county governments, health systems like Johns Hopkins and services like Meals on Wheels that need sanitization but cannot easily wash their hands.

“If you are an individual that would like hand sanitizer, please consider washing your hands and leaving the hand sanitizer for those that don’t have the ability to get to the sink: the first responders and such that need it in these situations," said Dan McNeill, distiller and co-founder of of MISCellaneous Distillery in Mount Airy. MISCellaneous had partnered with Meals on Wheels prior to helping them get sanitizer for drivers.

“The vast majority, I think, we’ll be doing for institutions like the hospitals or the Baltimore City Health Department to distribute as they see fit,” said Arch Watkins, co-founder of Old Line Spirits in Highlandtown. “But we’re also exploring doing a little curbside tent for people in the local neighborhood.”

Scott Jendrek, the founder of Patapsco Distilling Company in Sykesville, Carroll County, said that distilleries need high-proof alcohol, glycerol and hydrogen peroxide to make the appropriate hand sanitzier. Patapsco is currently buying 190-proof alcohol in order to meet the 80-percent-alcohol threshold for the final sanitizer, after it’s diluted with glycerol and hydrogen peroxide.

“We’re buying 190-proof so that we don’t have to distill it, but if that source dries up, we’re planning on distilling to make hand sanitizer only,” Jendrek said.

Some distilleries, including Lost Ark Distilling Company in Columbia and Baltimore Spirits Company, are already making the switch to producing alcohol for hand sanitzier exclusively.

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“Our plan is to move into 100% production of hand sanitizer over the next couple weeks,” said Magaret Barry, a partner in Lost Ark. “I think the demand is so great, we’ve been approached by different groups and organizations, that I think has exceeded anyone’s expectations.”

“I didn’t think that we knew anything about sanitizer,” said Meg McNeill, co-founder of MISCellaneous Distillery. “It turns out we’ve been making the primary ingredient for over three years now.”

Because of this shared goal, several respondents said that getting the non-alcoholic materials for the sanitizer [especially bottles] has been challenging.

“The distillery family here in Maryland is actually really stepping up and helping each other solve this problem," Watkins said.

The distilleries’ efforts have been noticed at the highest levels of state government.

“A number of our distillers all across the state are now, instead of producing alcohol, they’re producing hundreds of bottles of hand sanitizer for the local communities,” Gov. Larry Hogan said during a press conference Thursday.

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